Motherhood, Lies and Videotape

“Fred’s box of videotapes is in our room, if you and Max feel like watching them,” my mother reminded us about halfway through our trip. Now, those old videos are something we hadn’t laid eyes on in years.

When Fred was between the ages of 0 and 3 Max and I were obsessive videorecorders. Playing, crying, bathing, diaper changing, eating – nothing Fred did escaped the eyes of our clunky video camera. Every couple of months we’d then transfer the videos onto VHS (yes, how quickly the world has already evolved…) and send them to my parents in the U.S. We averaged a 4-hour tape per month and over time my parents had a collection of Fred’s every point of growth. And then we moved to the U.S., Fred turned 4 (i.e., we got used to having a little kid), our now antiquated video camera began acting up and we had slowed dramatically on the memory recording. My mom’s reminder that she still had our tapes and a working VCR felt like an invitation to a movie premiere.

So night after night we sabotashed our attempts to wean Fred off his summer sleep schedule as the 3 of us stayed up past 11:00 glued to the t.v., oohing and aahing and wiping tears watching little Fred. My gosh, how little he had once been! How big his head was and how wobbly his chubby little legs were! Max and I laughed sympathetically when 8 month old Fred cried at the siren of his new patrol car and we applauded wildly when he took his first steps. We winced at how annoying and relentless we were trying to get Fred to walk or smile for the camera and shushed (present day) 6 year-old Fred when he tried to re-enact his toddler stage in front of the t.v. to get our attention. We were absolutely transfixed, as if we had never met the younger Fred before. We loved, admired and appreciated him all over again, or could it be, we were doing so for the first time?

Aside from these fresh feelings of love, what startled me most from the tapes was seeing me. I couldn’t believe it: I actually seemed together as a mother. Granted, we normally do not pull out the videocamera when we are having a breakdown, but those moments caught on tape must have reflected some truth and reality, I wondered. I watched with proudness at how patiently I sang to and played with Fred. I saw myself cooking in the kitchen while keeping an eye on Fred in the livingroom and recalled those days when I had to hold the fort down 18 hours a day alone. I looked at the livingroom and bedroom on film and was incredulous at how clean everything was. I listened to my conversations with Moto and was amazed at how polite and sweet we were to one another. And I looked at my face and saw how almost always I was smiling, genuinely smiling. Was this really how it was? Why is it that I don’t remember any of this? Why is it that whenever I recall my early years of motherhood I remember mainly the chaos, the trepidations, the tears (both mine and Fred’s), the fights with Max, the insecurities, the guilt, the intense loneliness and the occasional desires to undo everything? I watched the tapes in tears, with the uncomfortable tugging at my heart that longed desperately to dive back into one of those moments – any moment – and relive early motherhood again. I wanted to hold Fred as a baby and as a toddler again and really enjoy and love it this time.

But maybe there is less to redo than I think. Watching ourselves on video, I have to believe that those captured moments were real. They really did happen. I really was a pretty good mother. I really did enjoy my baby. Max and I really did do okay as a couple. And I really, really was happy.

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When the past finally feels like the past

For many, many years my stomach would get tight at the thought of visiting “home,” a word that until only recently had meant “childhood home,” the place where I grew up, the place of my parents.

Before I write anything misleading, I have to say first that I grew up in a house with incredible love. My brother and I were (are) our parents’ lives and there was absolutely no doubt how important we were to them. But like any community of human beings we were all flawed, and add to that immigration stress and cultural and language gaps and we had a healthy dose of family dysfunction. I’d spent too many years of my adult life wanting to be free of that and to rebuild my life in peace and healthy communication with my own nuclear family. But unbreakable family ties “obligated” me to visit home once a year.

And inevitably as soon as I stepped foot into my house, the house where I went through puberty and all the hormonal ups and downs of a girl who was pretty moody to begin with, I would slip back into the shoes of the 15 year-old me. I’d feel the same panic whenever I heard my parents begin to raise their voices, and I’d struggle unsuccessfully to stay calm whenever I felt my mother was nagging or controlling too much. If Max needed any flashback to the young me he was lucky to have never known, well, this was it.

So last Sunday, as we were pulling into our old Boston home, those old knots came back. It’s going to happen again, I thought; my parents are going to drive me crazy, I am going to ruin this vacation by screaming at them.

Except I haven’t. It’s been day 5. Things have been so pleasant. My parents have been pleasant, for the most part. Sure, it was annoying the way they were bickering over the menu during my dad’s birthday dinner and yes, it is irritating the way my mom keeps shoving food at me even after I tell her repeatedly I am not hungry. But for some reason this time I don’t really have any of those old feelings anymore. It is as if the adolescent and young adult in me had finally faded, for good, into the past. I entered my parents’ house this time with the peace and confidence of a woman with her own family, own home and new history. I’m so grateful that the day has come.

Give what you can, when you can

Alexandra at Good Day, Regular People reminded me of this in a recent email.

For a long time I had felt disappointed and sometimes hurt, even resentful at the sparse emails that I was beginning to get from girlfriends. Of course, the spurts in correspondence coincided with early motherhood, and a single girlfriend and I used to say how we would never become like thatthat as in writing 2-sentence emails, that as in taking 2 months to respond to a friend, that as in ending an email with “Gotta go, baby’s crying!”

Now, three years later, that friend and I – both mothers of young boys – are emailing each other twice or three times a year, brief 2-sentence emails, often in attempt to set up a phone appointment to catch up.

The truth that I wanted to deny is that it is hard to carve out extra time when you have young children making demands, perhaps also non-home work responsibilities that could care less if your child is sick or if you only had 3 hours of sleep the night before. Even if you have just 5 minutes, Alexandra told me, give that. When you’re a mother, you need to just give what you can, when you can. I realized that it is the connection that is important, and not necessarily the content of the communication.

I’ve been out of touch recently, literally not visiting my own blog, let alone those of others. My work is cyclical (running from late summer through early winter), and my season has started. Because we are self-employed and this is the time of year when we “wait” for clients to sign up, I’ve been a bundle of nerves hoping that we will pull through. Though there is risk with any business, somehow it feels that much more nervewracking when everything depends on just the two of us. So I’ve been working a little harder this week to make sure we start off as strong as possible.

And tomorrow we take off for a major road trip up the east coast to visit my parents. I’ve got a washing machine of clothes waiting to be hung and a suitcase or two waiting to be packed. I’m going to try and finish the laundry in the 26 minutes I have left before I need to pick Fred up from camp. I’d finished writing a 52-page manual for work earlier and I thought, okay, I have another 10 or so minutes that I can spare. So I popped in here, blew some virtual dust off the blog, and grabbed those free moments to say hello.